Saint Dismas is the name given to the thief who was crucified alongside Jesus Christ and asked Jesus to remember him. Also known as the “Penitent thief” or the “Good thief” he is a saint in the Catholic church. We don’t know much about Saint Dismas. In fact his name, Dismas, is not mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. It’s a name that was given to him through tradition.
what we do know is that St. Dismas was one of two unnamed thieves in Luke’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. St. Dismas asked Jesus to “remember him” and the other thief mocked the lord Jesus Christ.
St. Dismas and the Catholic Church
He is officially venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church. His feast day is celebrated on the Annunciation because tradition tells us Christ, along with the good thief, was crucified and died on the anniversary of Christ’s incarnation. The name Dismas comes from the Gospel of Nicodemus.
Interestingly, the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark claim both thieves mocked Jesus. However, it is the Gospel of Luke that shows Dismas to be in paradise.
What the Gospel of Luke describes:
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place, which is called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide His garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!”
The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over Him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who was hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other rebuked him, saying “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingly power.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:32-43).
The Lesson of Saint Dismas
St. Dismas is known for being the patron saint of Prisoners, Condemned Prisoners, Undertakers, and Repentant Thieves. His feast day is Mar 25.
He serves as a powerful example of redemption and forgiveness. While the other thief reviled Jesus, Dismas asked for forgiveness. He shows us that it’s never truly too late to ask Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and join him in eternal life.
St. Dismas offers us hope that salvation can be found moments before death. Dismas repented, and so can you. If you have difficult times or you love someone who is, and they drifted away from the faith. Just remember, an unnamed thief crucified alongside Jesus made it to paradise in the last moments of his life.
Depictions of St. Dismas
According to tradition, the penitent thief was crucified on Jesus’ right. While the other thief was crucified to Jesus’ left. This is why images of the crucifixion usually show Jesus’ head inclined to his right. This shows that the good thief will be accompanying Jesus into paradise.
You can see in the icon above that Jesus’ head is leaning to the right. But also that the criminal hanging to Jesus’ right has a halo indicating that he is the good thief.
The Saint Dismas Myth
There is a story or myth associated with Saint Dismas. It comes from the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy. So, while it is not canon, it sheds some light on who Saint Dismas was or could have been.
The story is as follows:
The two thieves who ended up crucified next to Jesus actually interacted with the Holy Family when Jesus was just an infant. While the infant Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers, these two thieves attempted to rob them.
However, Dismas bribed the second thief, who is named Gestas, with forty drachmas and allowed the Holy Family pass safely. It’s at this point that the child Jesus prophesies that these two thieves will be crucified next to him and that Dismas will join Jesus in Heaven.
To clarify, this story is only a myth. It is not canon. But it is a nice story, and you can choose to believe it if you want. Just don’t be surprised if others do not.
Thomas Aquinas on St. Dismas
St. Thomas Aquinas comments “The words of the Lord must therefore be understood not of an earthly paradise, but of that spiritual paradise in which all may be, who are in the enjoyment of the Divine glory.”